Review: Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October
I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks.
This is the opening of A Night in the Lonesome October. This is my favorite novel by Roger Zelazny after Lord of Light, which I consider a masterpiece. A Night in the Lonesome October is the last book that Zelazny finished, and it was nominated for the Nebula in 1994.
The story is told in a prologue and thirty-one chapters, one for each day in October. It is sometimes said that it should be read one chapter at a time throughout October. I had read it several times, but always in one go, so I decided to give one chapter per day a try, albeit a month and a half early. Frankly, I can’t say that the book gained from the experience. But if you haven’t read it, you might give it a try. Read in one sitting or 32, it’s a good book either way.
Beyond the fine story, what I like about Zelazny is his mastery of style: so simple, so fluid, and yet so compelling. He does not use big words or big sentences. And even for him, the style in this story is appropriate for a dog, yet not dumbed down. The story simply flows from the page.
The novel tells the story of a strange Game, a metaphysical conflict between those who want to open the way for the Old Ones, and those who would thwart them. Every few decades, when moon is full on the night of Halloween, players spend the month of October preparing for the night when the fate of the world is to be decided. Each player has an animal companion.
This time, the Game is played in the suburbs of London. The players are a motley crew. Besides Jack, who prowls the streets of London at night with a knife and his faithful dog Snuff, there is Jill and her cat Graymalk. Other players are the Count, a seclusive being, and his equally nocturnal familiar Needle (a bat); Owen and the squirrel Cheeter; the Mad Monk Rastov and the black snake Quicklime; Morris and McCab, whose familiar is the owl Nightwind. Then we meet the vicar, by all appearances a respectable clergyman — but those who know of his secret activities would differ, and he has a companion, the raven Tekela. Other colourful characters include the Good Doctor, who seems to not only have an animal companion, the rat Bubo, but also a human one, a very large man sometimes seen lumbering about his house; Larry Talbot, who could be his own companion; and the Great Detective, a master of disguise.
As the story progresses, the players learn about each other, form alliances, turn traitor. Friendships are formed, too, not always following the alignment of the characters as players. The last night may yet reveal some secrets.
Jack and Jill went down the hill. Gray and I ran after.